Eating to Boost Immunity

Immune Function

 The immune system is the body’s defence against infection.  The system is needed not only to fight off viruses or bacterial infections, but also to destroy cancer cells in the early stages of the disease.

 Strengthen your immune system with a well-balanced and varied diet of fresh foods.  Getting enough protein is absolutely essential.  Vitamins and minerals also play key roles in boosting immunity.

 The Roles of Nutrients

 The following is a look at some of the nutrients that impact immunity:

  •  Protein:  Re-generates healthy new cells – One of the primary functions of protein is growth and maintenance of muscle or lean body tissues.  Protein is the building block needed for generating healthy new cells.  Protein also plays a key role in the manufacturing of antibodies to fight infection.  Protein-rich foods include lean meats, chicken, fish, soya bean/products, eggs, cheese, and dried beans lentils, and peas.


  •  Vitamin E:  Protect your skin – the body’s first line of defense against bacteria – with an intake of essential fats such as Vitamin E, found in vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds.


  • Vitamin A:  Keep mucus membranes in your respiratory passages healthy – protect you against infectious organisms you may breathe in.  Ensure that you have enough Vitamin A, found in foods such as liver, spinach, sweet potato, cantaloupe, carrots, and other deep-orange and yellow fruits and vegetables.


  • Acidophilus:  Stomach acid and ‘good bacteria’ in the intestines kill disease-causing bacteria that may be ingested with your food.  Special cultures found in some yogurts (acidophilus) can enhance their killer instincts.


  • Vitamin C:  Include Vitamin C rich foods such as citrus fruits, kiwi, strawberries, red peppers, and green vegetables, in your daily diet.  They improve antibody and T-cell function.  T-Cells are the bloodstream’s immune-specific cells.  They destroy invaders that have managed to get past the primary defences.  These cells require nutrients such as Vitamin C and the mineral Zinc in order to work effectively.  Ensure that you include foods such as oysters, shrimp, red meat, whole grains, and seeds, rich in the trace mineral Zinc needed for all immune functions.


  • B-Vitamins:  Be sure to get enough ‘stress-busting’ B-Vitamins, found in whole grains, rice, meat, yeast extract, vegetables, fruits, and milk.


  • Anti-oxidants:  Protect your body against cancer-causing and cholesterol-boosting ‘free radicals’, by having a good supply of the antioxidant Vitamins A, C and E, and the mineral selenium (found in meat and fish).


  • Iron:  Iron’s role in immune function covers every aspect of how the system works.  Iron is a vital component of a number of substances lethal to bacteria that are found in saliva and tears.  Iron is also needed to produce antibodies and to maintain the white blood cell (immune-cell) count.  Iron promotes the activity of “natural killer” immune cells, which are responsible for destroying cancer cells.  Iron-rich foods include liver, red meat, dried beans, lentils and peas, whole grains (bread, pasta, cereal), darkly coloured fruits and vegetables such as raisins, figs, spinach and turnip or beet greens (cooked), baked potatoes with the skin, and eggs.


  • Essential Fatty Acids (Omega 3 & Omega 6):  Essential Fatty Acids help to build the immune system & work together with co-factor vitamins – B-6, A, C, & E, and minerals – magnesium, zinc, copper, and selenium to regulate the activity of the white blood cells – T-cells and B-cells of the immune system.




Garlic – May enhance the ability of T-cells to kill invading bacteria.  T-cells are the first line of cellular defence against disease.

Cod liver oil Provides fatty acids and vitamin A to enhance overall immunity.

Yogurt (especially with acidophilus cultures) – May suppress carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) in the colon.

Cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables – May help increase enzyme activity that triggers detoxifying molecules.

About Winsome Dewar

Winsome Dewar, RHN, RNCP is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist. She is the author of The Healthy Options Healthy Eating and Weight Loss Plan® and the host of Rogers TV’s cooking show – Cooking with Winsome.
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